Jordan Rezac was a coach’s son, understood the game, and was a football player long before he buckled his chinstrap his freshman year at Desert Vista.
Jalen Jelks was just about the opposite.
He was a basketball player, as his height nearly required him to be, didn’t have a feel for the sport so when he showed up four seasons ago it essentially was the first time he put on a helmet.
With just two regular season games, starting with Thursday’s game at 1-7 Corona del Sol, left in their careers, the Desert Vista duo has taken different paths to become vital members of the Thunder senior class.
Rezac, who will contend for the state title in throws this track season, returned to the field last week after having hip surgery in August, but he never let the injury dominate his final year of wearing the Thunder uniform.
He became a pseudo position coach, helping those who replaced him, and showed up to practice day after day like the rest of his teammates.
“A lot of times, you see guys check out after they get hurt,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. “They’d come by every once in awhile or eventually stop coming at all, but Jordan was there every single day putting in work, any way he could, with the team.”
Rezac, who had several good blocks and caught a pass in the 21-10 win over Dobson, said getting back on the field was all he cared about.
“I wasn’t going to let (the injury) completely define my season,” he said. “I knew I was going to make it back. I wasn’t going to give up on my teammates or my senior year.”
Jelks said the locker room as a whole was happy to see No. 9 back in the huddle and making plays.
“Jordan deserves it as hard as he worked,” Jelks said. “He was there (doing physical therapy) helping us any way he could. We knew he’d make it back.”
Not everyone knew, including Jelks, that he’d develop into one of the top defensive linemen in Arizona and be in a position to accept a scholarship from Oregon back when he awkwardly stepped on to the field as a freshman.
“I always thought I’d be a basketball player,” said Jelks, who has five sacks and is second on the team in tackles. “It’s what my dad (Johnell at Kentucky State) played and I thought I had the size to do it, but it never worked out that way.
“I gave football a shot and it has been a blessing.”
It was hard to foresee that back when he was a freshman, when he played sparingly before an injury forced him to miss games.
“He didn’t really have the good feet or instincts he has now,” Rezac said. “No one thought he’d ever see the field back then.”
Hinds was just hoping he’d grow from being just a big body — he is now 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds — to a big prospect.
“The thing is, he is still learning and he can be so much better as he gets even more experience,” Hinds said. “His best days are ahead of him.”
Jelks, who was recently “drafted” to play in the West Coast Bowl in January, is playing at a high level, although he was limited to offense only last week.
“I’ve had a lot of help and worked really hard,” he said. “My dad and I have pretty intense workouts and it’s turned out better than anyone could have believed, probably.”
It will all come together if Rezac, Jelks and the other seniors fight their way into the playoffs by closing the year with two wins.
“It’s all everyone is looking at,” Rezac said. “We worked this hard all these years and we don’t want it to end before it should.”
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